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Admiral: Military effort 'putting together a picture'

Ret. Admiral Richard Cobbold
Ret. Admiral Richard Cobbold  

(CNN) -- As the United States continues to lay the groundwork for its campaign against terrorism, speculation is growing as to how enemy targets will be attacked.

Retired Admiral Richard Cobbold of the British Royal Navy joined CNN from London to discuss how the United States may plan its targets.

CNN: Let me first start off by asking you about a report heard yesterday. (We've) heard that British Special Forces, the SAS, have actually been conducting overflights in Afghanistan, already collecting reconnaissance. Do you know that to be true?

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COBBOLD: Well, I have seen the reports too, and the reports are that special forces -- British Special Forces -- are operating in Afghanistan and that unmanned air vehicles are operating and indeed reports that a predator has been shot down.

I think that probably is true, and I think you can expect that. This is a matter of finding the targets, reporting on movements and generally getting an awareness of what's happening on the ground.

CNN: Well, if that process is already underway, how confident are you that adequate targets will be found, that perhaps any of these moving terrorist camps can actually be located and pinned down?

COBBOLD: Right. Well, firstly it's the nature of Osama bin Laden and his networks, they're very diverse, they're dispersed, they're cellular. They're also very enveloped within the Taliban itself. So what you're looking for is really very good quality intelligence that is robust and up to date in time, and accurate in place, and that's not easy to do.

And you rely not only on technical means but maybe on whatever human beings you can get. And, of course, human means may mean time late, and maybe technical means don't give you the detail that you want, so it's a matter of putting together a picture and that's really quite a long job.

CNN: So then in your mind, then does putting together that picture actually require putting in troops on the ground first?

COBBOLD: You can put a picture together by technical means that are well away from the ground. There's no doubt at all that having special forces on the ground may well provide the sort of targeting information that will give the coalition the confidence that they can hit the targets they want, even though they are either moving or only static for a very short time.

CNN: I haven't heard very much talk about the weather. The weather has got to play quite a factor when you consider that winter is coming up. I remember lots of discussions about that last time around with the Gulf War. How do you think the weather is going to factor in with the identification of any of these targets that are already so hard to find when there is no really serious weather going on there?

COBBOLD: Well, there's no doubt that winter comes and winter is coming in about a month's time, and winter at that height and those latitudes is extraordinarily severe so it will hamper movement and it will hamper intelligence gathering. I think for the moment, though, that it is reasonably good. I understand that broadly speaking the visibility is good and the cloud cover is not so bad. So there are reasonable conditions at the moment.

CNN: This morning, (CNN's) Mark Potter reported hearing (from the Pentagon) that actual targeting may begin or may actually include going after the poppy fields that the Taliban allegedly have been using to finance their government through drug sales internationally. What do you think about that?

COBBOLD: It's an interesting possibility. One of the things that the Taliban has done in order to try and get some favor with the international community is to cut down ostensibly on the amount of opium that is grown in Afghanistan and they have apparently cut down to a very great extent.

Now there is also a suggestion that I've heard that the Taliban are easing their restrictions and the Afghan farmers may look to growing poppies again very greatly as perhaps the only means they have of getting themselves some income.

So I think it may actually have the reverse effect. The Taliban may actually be encouraging more growth. I'm not totally convinced, though, that in the time scale that we're talking about that the Taliban can readily expect to get a great deal of short-term income from the poppies to set against the loss they might get from the economic campaign that's being waged against them.


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